We all believe that we have personality. We also believe that this personality is pretty static, that a person’s fundamental likes and dislikes, their tastes, and world-views do not change that much. We are a solid entity that possesses a distinct imprint, kind of like a fingerprint.
In 1968, distinguished personality theorist Walter Mischel pointed out that correlations between a person’s behavior in one setting and another are often surprisingly low.
Mischel’s analysis revealed that the individual?s behavior, when closely examined, was highly dependent upon situational cues, rather than expressed consistently across diverse situations that differed in meaning. For example, people we label very talkative may hardly talk at all at a formal gathering. If personality is measured by one’s behavior, then we find that personality is indeed more fluid.
Another theorist, Richard Nisbett, took this argument farther and argued that personality traits are merely cognitive delusions people create regarding their friends and family in order to give their worlds and their relationships an artificial aura of predictability. Thus the personality becomes little more than a mirage that gives us a sense of comfort. Pretty harsh! 😮
Its a jarring message that rips apart a mostly universal understanding of ourselves. It does away with the ‘sacred cow’ of the personal which I find both unnerving and compelling. Its a message that is found in various mystical traditions and certain introspective philosophies, where we are encouraged to move past who we think we are to discover a deeper understanding to our lives.
I am now inclined to the think of the traditional notion of personality is akin to a pacifier. An object that eventually needs to be done away with as one truly matures.